Amazon.com: Customer Reviews: Gaudy Night: A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery with Harriet Vane
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'Gaudy Night,' Dorothy Sayers' penultimate novel in the Lord Peter Wimsey series, was originally intended to be the last. Unlike the rest of the series, it is Harriet Vane's tale, first and last. Lord Peter does not appear in person until the last third of the story, when he takes his place as romantic lead and solver of all things mysterious. Sayer's takes this opportunity to both reveal unexpected depths to Miss Vane's character and create a remarkable elegy of her own memories of Oxford, where she took highest honors in a world made by and meant for the male sex.
Harriet returns to Shrewsbury College to take part in the annual Gaudy night, something a bit like our own college reunions, not quite sure what to expect. While renewing her friendship with both her old classmates and instructors, she brushes against the start of a mystery when she finds some very unpleasant notes expressed a vitriolic hatred for the denizens of the college. Brushing it aside as an isolated occurrence, she returns to the festivities without realizing that she has seen is only the tip of the iceberg.
Several months later, Harriet finds herself called back to Shrewsbury by the Dean. The few isolated occurrences had become an onslaught and the school desperately needed help in resolving the problem without any adverse publicity. Miss Vane, a successful mystery writer, a survivor of a murder charge, and a friend of the esteemed Lord Peter Wimsey, seemed the ideal person to come to the aid of the Senior Common Room. The idea of a woman's college was still newfangled to Oxford and a scandal could become a major setback. What Harriet found was a steadily escalating attack on the sanity and safety of the college on apparent waged by a devious and hate filled mind.
The tale is a psychological thriller, told against the backdrop of Oxford and the University. Sayers fills the book with loving (and sometimes not so loving) details of academic life and its foibles. Her style often mimics Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy and the novels of a century past, providing a comedy of manners as counterpoint to the grim tale of a mind gone awry. Distraught students and instructors alternate with appearances by Wimsey's madcap nephew and countless caricatures, one right after another.
'Gaudy Night' is a tour de force, coupling some of Sayer's finest writing with ideas that were novel and controversial when the book made it's first appearance. It is a unique story from the first disturbing note to the last surprising twist and turn in the relationship between Lord Peter and Harriet Vane. And one that is very, very well told. Whether this novel or 'The Nine Tailors' is the better novel will be argued forever, but there is no question that 'Gaudy Night' is one of the best from a mystery writer who stands at the head of her class.
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on January 15, 2003
I've never said this before and I don't think I'll say it about any other book: This book is perfection. The telling is beautiful, seamless and touches every emotion, the way a good book should. Lord Peter Wimsey is such a well-developed character: he has Holmes's wit, combined with charisma, charm, sensitivity, tenderness and intelligence. Earlier in the series, he hadn't figured out who he was or what he wanted to be, but now he knows: to marry Harriet.
Miss Harriet Vane is an even better character than his lordship. She's believable, independent, a writer, tender inside, witty, polite and has intelligence to match Lord Peter's. The moments of affection - I hesitate to call them 'love scenes' - were breathtaking, without either party removing any clothes. Some writers today could learn from that.
The suspense is high, the love is brewing and the plot is seamless and unlabored, as if it really did happen. I recommend this to EVERYONE. I may only be a kid, but I know perfection when I see it.
On another note: I don't like the DVDs of the Dorothy Sayers books. They are perfect in all their literary glory; why try to improve perfection? Another thing, Lord Peter Wimsey is his best on paper, not impersonated by some silly person trying to act like an English lord, who will never come close to Sayers's Peter's immortal charm, intellect and tenderness.
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on January 16, 2013
(Original review read: This Kindle version is not worth the money, folks. It has many, many typos, some obviously errors in scanning. Surely whoever prepares the Kindle versions could do better. I could have bought the actual book and been able to read without tripping over misspellings all the way through.) UPDATE: it appears the file has been updated. Yay for electronic media!
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on January 29, 2001
Dorothy Sayers has frequently used autobiographical experiences as a starting point for her writing - as an example, "Murder Must Advertise" was set in an advertising agency and based on Sayers' own experiences in the field. Here again, Sayers goes back to her past days as an Oxford student at Somerville College and this makes "Gaudy Night" a unique entry in the Lord Peter Wimsey series. Harriet Vane, an Oxford alum, attends the Gaudy, which is a reunion of past students and is asked by her old professors to turn her talents as a detective writer to practical use. Someone is terrorizing the faculty and students of the college by sending vicious anonymous letters. The college is terrified of this leaking out to the press and giving education for women a bad name, therefore discretion is vital. Rather relectantly, Harriet accepts and comes down to Oxford to stay for a term. She discovers that the perpetrator is not now satisfied by just sending letters and is moving on to more serious offences like trying to burn the books in the college library, destroy the works of the faculty and eventually attacking certain faculty members. Harriet struggles with the realization that the perpetrator may be a professor as well as with the realization of her growing feelings for Lord Peter Wimsey. The actual unraveling of the mystery is fascinating by itself, but I was particularly intriuged by Sayers taking the opportunity to discuss issues such as society's view towards University education for women, and the need to maintain one's own identity, even in a serious relationship. "Gaudy Night" is therefore a truly feminist work and Harriet's internal struggle between her love for Wimsey and her desire to maintain her independence is something all women can identify with, even today. Although she is hard to like at times, being prickly and sensitive to a fault, we can all sympathize with her predicament. In a nutshell - absolutely fabulous and required reading for all Sayers fans!
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on September 16, 2013
Dorothy L. Sayers's Lord Peter/Harriet Vane quartet of novels are among my lifelong favorites. I was delighted to find such a handsome new edition...until I actually tried to read them. Misspellings, random capitalizations, endless dumb little errors. I reread these books often, and I don't want to wince in pain every time I do. I'll stick with my old beat-up paperbacks, thanks. Do NOT buy the Bourbon Street Books editions. Ms. Sayers deserves much better than this.
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on November 21, 2012
Of the well-known authors from the British Golden Age of mystery fiction, Dorothy Sayers is the most intelligent and scholarly, putting her at the head of an awesome group. For the modern reader, however, she presents difficulties. Books from this era always seem dated. Sayers, by reason of her erudite language and profound immersion in the intellectual culture of the day, dates more severely than the others of the era.
If you are already a fan of Agatha Christie or John Dickson Carr, then you should definitely read Dorothy Sayers. But if you have so far only read modern mystery writers, Sayers is NOT the first port of call for your Golden Age experience. You may find Gaudy Night daunting with its slow pace, the quaint (sometimes near impenetrable) language of the cloistered Oxford dons of the 1930s, and the lengthy exploration of characters internal worlds as they introspectively ponder their own motivations. Viewed through modernist eyes, Gaudy Night has far too many characters, far too many words, and far too little action.
On its own terms however, this book is the pinnacle of British Golden Age writing. Most agree it is Sayers' best. It is a literary novel which gives a penetrating insight into women of the era struggling with the conflict between the constraints of traditional feminine roles and the intellectual freedom (and rigor) of academia. And it presents a mystery of satisfying complexity and convincing resolution.
Gaudy Night is the best of its era - when you are ready for it.
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on April 28, 2000
Dorothy L. Sayers wrote some of the best mystery novels that ever appeared in print. In fact she wrote most of them.
Gaudy Night is mainly a novel of Oxford, despite its being ostensibly a mystery. Harriet Vane is the main character of this novel, though of course Sayers' best creation, Lord Peter Wimsey, plays an important part in this book. The dialogue is as clever and wonderfully piffling as ever, the story thought-provoking, and best of all it is here that Peter is finally successful in wooing his Harriet. (The punt scene! And the finale...)
There never was a better mystery writer. I would suggest, before reading this, that you read Strong Poison and Have His Carcase for the full effect. Oh, and follow Gaudy Night up with Busman's Honeymoon.
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on December 5, 2012
The novel, of course, is brilliant; sadly, this electronic edition has a lot of obvious misreadings, and that's not including the quotations of Classical writers in the Greek alphabet. If you're going to read this novel for the first time, go to your local library and borrow the oldest, dustiest copy you can find. Read that five or ten times, then decide if you really need it on your e-reader. If so, this edition will do.
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on July 16, 2005
If one were allowed 10 books on a desert island, this would be one. I still re-read it several times a year, whenever I'm depressed.

Apparently people were educated differently 70 years ago when the book was written--Sayers included portions of untranslated French, apparently confident her readers could decipher it. A friend has complained the sentences are too long but the work is an engrossing, majestic masterpiece which never fails to convey one to a grander time, one without TV or Internet but perhaps not suffering from those lacks.

Some day I'm having a portrait of Harriet Vane done to hang in a place of honor.
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on October 24, 2012
This is my favorite Lord Peter story and I was thrilled when it became available on Kindle. However, they forgot to hire a proof-reader. The very first mention of Lord Peter's valet spells his name "Burner"! This edition is so full of misspellings and bad punctuation it spoils the reading experience. It's disrespectful of Dorothy Sayers and of the reader, so I gave it only three stars, otherwise it would get five.
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